Saturday, July 28, 2012

The domain of domestic help

One of the things that causes my friends in the US envy is the abundance and availability of domestic help which seems like such an extravagant luxury.  Having been here all of 3 weeks, I am seeing both the abundance and availability.  However we underestimate the management aspect of these domestic workers.

Let me introduce you to my two housemaids.  They are an interesting duo. 

Meet Rekha, the Negotiator -  She talks nineteen to the dozen, drives a hard bargain and always has an opinion about how things should be done, specifically about cleaning.  If I ask her to do something, I can count on her to suggest another method or follow another routine.  Initially, I indulged her until she told me that I should use acid to clean some stains on the floor.  After that, I kept a close eye on her and insisted that she follow what I tell her. 

Parvathy the Worker bee - My second maid is the sister in law of Rekha, a quiet, composed lady about 4 foot 10 inches, as tall as my Rahul.  She does not talk much, but is happy to follow directions and do what she is asked to do.  Also seems to have a better knack for cleaning than her sister-in-law.  Despite that, the first couple of weeks, I found more stains on the walls after they started work ; as they would support themselves by putting dirty hands on the walls and I found myself repeating "Quit touching the walls" constantly.  Hopefully after our furniture arrives, the walls will be spared. 

On a happy note, Rekha is now employed elsewhere, courtesy of her husband, who died a premature alcoholic induced death.  Now, the office where he worked has offered her a consolation job.  Parvathy continues to be my main maid and I am looking forward to training her.

After observing several of our family and friends and their entourage of servants, and also a brief interlude with my own househelp,  I have come to the conclusion that there are three things that one must keep in mind when using domestic help.

1.  Clear Directions:  This brings to mind for me as an HR person the critical nature of a 'Job Description'.  While nothing as formal as that exists here, the trick is to spell out clearly before closing the deal, exactly what is entailed in the job. 

2.  Constant Supervision:  Your domestic help may have been with you for years, yet the job demands that you keep a close eye on details. 

3.  Prior Planning:  As a household manager, you constantly have to plan the task list for the help.  If you don't, you have lost out because none of them are going to have the initiative to take charge and do what needs to be done.
My experience with my domestic help is still in its early stages.  There is a lot that I need to learn.  I am finding that I am more exhausted with getting work done with this help than I was doing it myself. I am going to work on all the three competencies that I have detailed for you, dear readers.  Wish me luck!!!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Welcome to India

Sorry readers.  I have had a longer absence, but when you hear what I have been through, I am sure you will be very sympathetic

June 29th, 2012 was a very momentous day for us. 
Following the lean principles of Just in Time, we closed at 8:30, packers left at 12.30, we cleaned house and handed over the keys at 6:00 pm.  And then we were homeless, just like that!  I could write about the feeling of emptiness or the melancholy of separating from a life you have built over 14 years.  But that would be depressing and I am sure my readers can understand and empathize with those sentiments.

On July 7th, at 4:30 am, our plane landed in Pune.  We had just 9 pieces of checked in luggage and 4 carry on suitcases.  We believe in travelling light... Just kidding.  There were a few anxious moments as we wondered if we would be harassed by the Indian Customs authorities for the many pieces of luggage we were carrying and also the jewellery that I was taking back.  However, that turned out to be an empty fear.   There is something unique in India where your senses are constantly bombarded with noises, and smells that you get inured to over time.  But the first time you exit the aircraft and enter the airport, you are assailed by strange smells and sounds that can be daunting to the faint at heart. 

Everything went smoothly, there were two large jeeps waiting to take us to our new abode, about 35 minutes from the airport.  And thus began our new journey.  The house is empty except for our suitcases and about 2 inches of dust accumulated over the three weeks that Giri was away.  First priority for me after a clean bath was coffee.  Of course we had no milk in the house.  And then as I was glancing outside, I noticed the milk delivery guy on his bicycle stopping at the neighbours house.  I ran outside and asked him for milk  and also told him to deliver every morning moving forward.  As easy as that, we had milk.  While I was talking to him, the lady next door stopped me.  Apparently, Giri's uncle had left some packages for us in the neighbours house.  She brought them out for me.  Juices, Water, sandwiches, everything we needed for our first morning survival was there.   This also allowed me to meet the neighbour who was very friendly and helpful.  While the concept of this total stranger agreeing to house the food and packages for an unknown neighbour was alien to us, I hear from friends that this is typical in India.  If you are not home, nobody hesitates to ask the neighbour to keep your stuff whether it is mail, returned dry cleaning etc.  Kind of a fringe benefit.

Sunday, the first order of business was to find a maid to do the housework.  Again to the western world this may seem presumptous and indolent, but life in India revolves around domestic help. We interviewed two maids from  a nearby village and after an exciting exchange with some pantomiming thrown in by me much to the amusement of our kids,  we acquired some help for the first month for the princely sum of $22. 

So long for now.  In the next post, I will explain to you the unique human resource skills needed to manage the household, domestic help.  It is an art dear readers and I am learning from people around me who have been doing it successfully for a long time.